Old storefronts along dirt road with fence
You can still explore the abandoned stores from the 1860's.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Wild West Awaits: 13 Ghost Towns in America You Can Still Explore

Where Deserted Streets are Steeped In History

It’s the wild west. A dusty main road is lined with wooden shops and saloons; a vulture glides overhead as a warm breeze rattles the shutter of a nearby home. In the distance you can faintly hear the footsteps of worn leather boots or the clinking of spurs.

It’s not just a scene from an old movie — old towns like this still exist in today’s modern world, if you know where to look. Towns that have long since been deserted but are oddly well-preserved. They’re aptly referred to as ghost towns; the inhabitants having vacated their homes and businesses, leaving the structures abandoned and left to decay.

The United States is home to many of these towns, strewn across the country. Here are some of the best ghost towns of America.

Bannack, Montana

Located on Grasshopper Creek in Beaverhead County, MT, Bannack was the site of a major gold discovery. John White founded the town in 1862 and it grew quickly as news spread of the gold strike.

The growth of the town’s population resulted in the establishment of many businesses and amenities, including hotels, bakeries, blacksmith shops, meat markets, grocery stores, a restaurant, a brewery and up to four saloons.

At the height of its popularity, Bannack was home to around 10,000 people, but just a year after being founded, many of the town’s occupants had moved on in hopes of finding gold elsewhere. The town saw a fluctuating population over the next 60 years. By the 1950s, the mine and town had all but shut down and Bannack was officially declared a state park.

Today, many of the Bannack’s buildings and structures are still standing along the main road for visitors to explore. There is a small park fee charged per vehicle, but if you have a Montana license plate, your visit will be free. Discover more information, resources and a map of the state park here.

Old buildingWhile other abandoned towns in the area have since crumbled away, most of Rhyolite's buildings still stand.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite, named after the unique volcanic rock found in the area, was established in the early 1900s during the gold rush.

Like many of the towns built during the rush, Rhyolite was home to many, but only for as long as the gold held out. By 1919, Rhyolite had become an abandoned ghost town.

What makes Rhyolite stand out from the rest is that many of the town’s buildings were built from permanent materials, which means many of the structures are still standing, waiting to be explored. Many similar towns in the area have long since crumbled away, whereas Rhyolite provides a rare glimpse into life during the gold rush, making for an exciting day
trip and a unique educational opportunity.

Rhyolite can be found just outside of Beatty, NV; roughly 30 miles outside Death Valley, CA and about 120 miles from the Las Vegas strip.

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Old buildings next to dirt roadTake a peek inside the town hall, jail and several houses that are still standing.Photo Credit: Getty Images

St. Elmo, Colorado

Colorado is home to plenty of ghost towns, but St. Elmo is likely the best preserved. It’s nestled in the heart of the Sawatch Range about 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista. It’s also reported to have the most hauntings and paranormal activity of any other ghost towns in the state.

St. Elmo was originally named Forest City, however due to many other towns sharing the same name, one of the founders changed the name. At its peak in the 1890s, the town included saloons, hotels, dance halls, a newspaper office, a telegraph office, a school house and a general store.

The general store is still standing and operating today along with several other structures including houses, the town hall and the jail. The town of St. Elmo’s is open to the public from Mother’s Day weekend in May into October and even offers cabin rentals to those wanting to stay and explore.

Old red mining buildings up on a hillsideKennecott was once a prosperous copper mining camp.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Kennecott, Alaska

While many ghost towns were founded during the gold rush, Kennecott, Alaska was once a prosperous copper mining camp. Established in the early 1900s, Kennecott yielded one of the richest copper deposits ever discovered, and quickly became a thriving town.

At the peak of the mine’s operation, about 600 men worked within the mines and the local mill. Although the town was primarily populated by miners, it was important to those who brought their families to establish a growing community. The town included a school, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall, general store and hospital.

In the 1920s the supply of ore was diminishing, and the Copper Corporation expanded elsewhere. The deserted remains of the town have been left empty for over 60 years. The camp and abandoned mines are now a National Historic Landmark acquired by the National Park Service. Several
structures remain today; some have been repurposed for modern use such as the store and the post office, while others need additional stabilization to keep them from further deterioration, and still others have decayed and rotted beyond repair.

The Kennecott ghost town is open to the public throughout the summer. The visitor center can provide brochures, backcountry trip planning, history talks, wilderness excursions, and nature walks in addition to information about the mining town.

Porch on a house with mountains in backgroundAnimas Forks takes a bit of effort to get to, but it'll be well worth it for its historic buildings and stunning setting.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Animas Forks, Colorado

Roughly 12 miles northeast of Silverton, CO three rivers meet, one of which is the Animas River. In 1873, prospectors built the first cabins of a town called Three Forks of the Animas, soon renamed Animas Forks. By 1876 it was a bustling mining community complete with a general store, post office, local newspaper, hotel and dozens of cabins. Nearly 500 people called Animas Forks home by 1883.

At the turn of the century the mine’s profits started to decline, and residents left the town behind. By the 1920s, Animas Forks was officially a ghost town.

Animas Forks still exists as a tourist attraction and while it isn’t the easiest ghost town to get to, it does provide plenty of adventure. If you have a two-wheel drive vehicle, the town is only accessible in the summer as getting there requires navigating a system of dirt roads called the Alpine Loop. The fragile state of the buildings means visitors are prohibited entry, but exploring the surrounding area can make for an exciting day trip and stunning photos. Take note that journeying along the road past Animas Forks will require a four-wheel drive vehicle. Brochures and maps of the town are available in the main parking area.

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Overlooking ghost townAfter silver lost its value, the town's 500 mines closed down and the town was left desolate. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Calico, California

Calico was once a grand mining town during the largest silver strike in California. With roughly 500 mines, Calico produced over $20 million in silver ore, but once silver lost its value in the mid-1890s, the residents packed up and abandoned their town.

The ghost town was purchased in the 1950s by Walter Knott who restored all but five of the original buildings to their original state. Today Calico is a State Historical Landmark and part of the San Bernardino County Regional Parks system and offers several tours and attractions.

Over the years, the town of Calico, CA has earned its ghostly title with a series of reported paranormal activity. Ghost tours are available through the town on weekends and become a popular attraction during the month of October when they host Fear Town. Calico ghost town is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Christmas Day. Tour and attraction prices vary per package.

Old mineThe town remains today as one of Wisconsin's largest historic sites. Photo Credit: Getty Images

South Pass City, Wyoming

South Pass City was established in 1867 when the Carissa Mine struck a rich vein of gold. Hundreds of miners and prospectors rushed to the area and within a year the population had reached nearly 2,000 people. The town’s main road expanded to a half-mile to allow businesses such as saloons, banks, blacksmiths and other merchants to build their establishments to provide for the mining town.

There were more than 30 mines in South Pass City but when they stopped providing in 1872, the town’s residents moved away. The town was later used for ranching but today remains as a tourist attraction as one of Wyoming’s largest historic sites.

South Pass City is open to the public from May 15 through September 30. Admission is $3 for residents of Wyoming and $5 for non-residents. Find a map and instructions for how to get there here.

Old house with junkVirginia City was the birthplace of Montana's first newspaper and public school.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Virginia City, Montana

Prospectors struck gold near Alder Creek in 1863 and within weeks, Virginia City, MT was home to thousands more fortune seekers. Although Bannack, MT was originally named the first territorial capital, the title moved to Virginia City in 1865 and remained the capital until 1875.

Virginia City is famed for more than being a Victorian mining town. Before becoming a ghost town, Virginia City was the birthplace of Montana’s first newspaper and the home of Montana’s first public school.

Charles and Sue Bovey began buying and repairing the town in the 1940s, putting work into maintaining the decaying structures. Once restored, the well-preserved gold mining town was open for tourism in the 1950s. The ghost town is now a National Historic Landmark and is operated as an open-air museum providing several tours and attractions.

Virginia City is open for visitors from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Park and attraction prices vary depending on packages and memberships. Find more information and a full list of attractions here.

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Sewing machine table and chest in dilapidated roomGarnet's population fluctuated over the years, but after World War II the town was eventually abandoned for good.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Garnet, Montana

Garnet is yet another abandoned mining town, however this one dates to the 1860s. Fully established in the 1890s, Garnet was a bustling center for the mining of the semi-precious red stone found in the area, as well as gold. The town was a good place to live; there was a school, hotels, barber shops, a doctor’s office and a butcher. Garnet’s crime rates were low, and there was plenty of liquor in the town’s many saloons.

The town’s population fluctuated over the years as silver mines became popular and then unpopular, bringing miners back to Garnet. When President Roosevelt raised gold prices the town saw more people arrive to work in the mines, but with the arrival of World War II, the population of Garnet had moved away, leaving it a deserted ghost town.

Garnet today hosts many nature trails and outdoor activities such as camping and fishing. It’s open year-round, however access is limited in the winter.

Abandoned store and truckThe town has now been designated a National Historic Landmark and is now a state historic park.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Bodie, California

Bodie began as a small mining camp in 1859 of little interest; by 1868 two companies had built mills and both had failed. It wasn’t until 1876 and the discovery of profitable gold-bearing ore that Bodie became a booming mining center and home to roughly 7,000 people and nearly 2,000 buildings.

Over the years Bodie’s mines produced roughly $34 million in gold, but the town began to decline in 1880 as miners were lured away to work in other mining booms. There was a short revival of the town in the 1890s, but by 1912 Bodie was printing its last newspaper.

The town was designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s which led to the authorization of Bodie State Historic Park. With just over 100 of the town’s original structures remaining, Bodie is preserved in a “state of arrested decay.”

Visitors are welcome to walk the deserted streets of the once-bustling town and explore the remaining structures where they’ll find the interiors left as-is and stocked with goods. Removal of any of these items is prohibited by the park.

There are legends that anyone who takes a bit of Bodie home will quickly come to regret it. Stories report that a string of devastating bad luck comes to those who remove anything from the park, until the property has been returned. Park officials say they receive many parcels with letters of apology and the return of pieces of history.

Sign for Terlingua with mountains in backgroundA ghost town come alive, you can grab a bite to eat, shop and explore abandoned buildings.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Terlingua, Texas

It’s reported that a man named Jack Dawson produced the first mercury from Terlingua in 1888, however according to Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale, a historian, the facts around the discovery “are so shrouded in legend and fabrication that it is impossible to cite the date and location of the first quicksilver recovery.”

Although the specific dates are hazy, Terlingua had a slow start as a mining town. By 1903, however, it had become a booming town, with over 3,000 people calling it home.

Today the ghost town is open to the public to be explored. There is no admission but several events, including a chili cook-off, invite visitors to stop by, shop and have a bite to eat at the local dining areas.

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Old, rusted equipmentOnce a bustling town, Goldfield was quickly abandoned after the gold rush dwindled. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Goldfield, Arizona

Atop a small hill, nestled between the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Mountains, sits the town of Goldfield, AZ. Established in 1892 when high-grade gold ore was discovered in the area, many miners and prospectors set up home here, hoping to strike it rich. Before long the town was home to over 1,500 residents as well as a brewery, saloons, a blacksmith, a general store, a post office, a butcher and even a school.

But, as the story goes for many mining towns, once the gold started to deplete the town quickly became deserted. Just five years after the town was established, it had become a ghost town left to decay.

The town and surrounding area were purchased in 1966 by a couple who dreamed of owning their own ghost town. They worked to rebuild the old town and the mill, as well as reconstruct a mining tunnel.

Today, Goldfield is filled with people in period costume, horses and wagons providing a highly sought-after and educational tourist attraction. Attractions include tours and authentic gunfighter presentations.

Abandoned buildings beside railway track and roadTake a peak into West Virginia's past by visiting an abandoned town from the 1880's.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Thurmond, West Virginia

The town of Thurmond found itself on the map in the late 1880s after the completion of the Southside Junction railroad bridge that crosses the New River. The population and economy thrived for over 30 years due to the success of the steam engine repair shop in town — a crucial service during the early 1900s.

With the introduction of roads, Thurmond became less necessary and began to deteriorate as its residents left. Shortly after, two major fires ravaged many of the town’s structures inspiring more of the businesses and population to move away. Thurmond’s population of several hundred quickly dwindled to less than a dozen inhabitants.

Though the town is little more than a shell of its former glory, it remains as an attraction and reminder of West Virginia’s past. Thurmond is now mostly owned by the National Park Service which created the protected area that is now known as New River Gorge National River.

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